Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Joy of Giving

In the ElderLink session I mentioned yesterday, Larry James was discussing the theology of justice and the poor. I've been reflecting on that and will write more about it, but I found Patrick Odum's article in today's Heartlight to be timely...

The Joy of Giving, by Patrick D. Odum

[Jesus said] "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35 TNIV).

A little boy I know, only eight years old, was tops in his class in sales for a school fund raiser. The prize was $25. Now $25 for him to spend however he pleases is a lot of money! The little boy's father asked him one evening later that week what the boy thought he would do with the money. There are a lot of Lego sets to be had, after all. That kind of money would buy a lot of books or toys, or maybe even a computer game. The little boy thought for a minute, ideas flickering like diamonds in his blue eyes. He handled those ideas, holding them up to the light, judging their brilliance, then made his decision. The expression on his face spoke as much as his words; they didn't display the momentary excitement that flashes across an eight-year-old face when he receives one more toy, but shown with a quieter, more satisfied joy -- the joy of knowing he's made a good choice. "I want to take you to a football game," he told his dad.

And his dad had to turn his head a little so the boy won't see the tears he could feel stinging his eyes. (Wonder why he feels he has to hide them?) He shed tears, not just because his son made a decision to use the money for something special for them to do together, but also because when his son could have been thinking of all the things he could have bought for himself with $25, he was thinking instead about ways he could use it to make someone else happy. "Let it be that he will always think that way," the father prayed later that night.

Another little boy, maybe no older than eight, squinted in the bright sun as he watched the men talk. There are thirteen of them, and twelve seem to have made up their minds about something. They were just having a little trouble getting the other one on board. He overheard some of the words -- "hungry," "all these people," "away." But, the lone holdout shook his head, made a gesture that took them all in.

The little boy could read his lips. It looked like he said, "You give them something to eat." They looked at each other, at the ground, at the huge crowd spread out on the hillside below them. They scowled, frowned -- one of them threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. But, the one they're trying to convince has this interesting expression on his face -- he's enjoying this. As if he knows the boy has been eavesdropping, the man looks right at him, smiles, and winks.

The boy looks at the huge crowd, then takes his family's picnic basket and looks inside. He counts the loaves of bread -- just five, pitiful, flat little things -- and a couple of fish his dad had caught the day before. "Well, it's a start," he thinks. He gets up, puts the basket under his arm, and tugs on the cloak of the closest of the twelve. Minutes later, as the boy's head swam with the wonder of it all, the whole crowd is eating fish and bread -- his fish and bread. And everyone had more than enough. And the man, who moments before had given thanks for his fish and bread and divided it among the people, was looking at him and smiling.

Oh, we get so caught up in getting what we think we need that sharing what we already have seems wrong, somehow. We become conditioned, I guess -- conditioned to think that human beings are rivals fighting for the same meager resources. Whatever someone else has is not available for my use. We grow so accustomed to competition that we make the fundamental mistake of believing that the greatest blessings of life have to do with receiving one thing or another.

This sharing thing is a risky proposition.

Jesus called into question this perspective of scarcity. He dared to suggest that our values were upside-down: that the joy of receiving doesn't begin to compare with the joy of giving, that the clearest evidence of God's blessing in a person's life has less to do with how much he has than with how much he gives, and that God's work can be more clearly discerned in what he does with what you surrender than with what he drops into your lap. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," is a revolutionary statement that calls into question the economic realities under which we mostly operate. We know we're supposed to believe it. We just struggle with finding a place for such a belief in the world in which we operate.

Maybe it has to do, in the end, with faith. People who choose to define blessedness by what they give and not what they receive do so because they believe that in one way or another, there is enough for everyone to enjoy. Often, I think, they share because they believe that "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15) and that "people do not live on bread alone" (Luke 4:4).

Where others fear shortage, these people see God's grace and plenty.

When others give in to the impulse to hoard, they are ruled by the generosity of the Holy Spirit. Where others clutch their possessions more tightly out of fear, their hands are opened by the sharing nature of the One who opened his hands to the nails.

Make no mistake. This sharing thing is a risky proposition. What if, after all, the world is right? What if you share and then, whenever and wherever the accounting is done, it turns out that you don't have enough? What if you don't get your Lego? What if no one passes a portion of "your" bread and fish back to you? That's all possible. And yet Jesus promises that a lifestyle of giving, not receiving, is the way to live in true joy and under God's approving smile. So maybe blessedness isn't what we think it is. It strikes me that Jesus never lived a life of plenty and yet spoke of God's blessing as if he knew it first-hand. Maybe giving opens up whole new realms of joy and peace and abundance that receiving never even hints at.

There's only one way to find out, of course. Stop reading and go find a thing and a way and a place to give. Time. Energy. Possessions. Talents. Money, of course. Food. Give more to the church. Work in a food pantry or a homeless shelter. Spend time with a lonely person. Find your basket of loaves and fish, your $25, and give it to your Father. And then watch as he makes someone's day with it.
(c) 2006 Patrick D. Odum

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blurring the Lines

This past Saturday I attended the ElderLink conference sponsored by ACU. In one of the sessions, Larry James was talking about building community. He began by saying that the most important thing we can do in building community is to blur the lines. Lines - real or imaginary - that separate according to economic status, race, gender, religion, neighborhood... as long as they exist, true community will not be possible.

Ironically, two of the front page stories in today's Morning News describe efforts to sharpen the lines. Below are the lead sentences from each of those articles...
    1. The City of Farmers Branch on Monday adopted strict measures against illegal immigrants, requiring apartment renters to provide proof of citizenship or residency and making English the city's official language...
    2. Texas lawmakers struck hard at illegal immigrants Monday, filing bills that would restrict birthright citizenship, bar them from getting state benefits such as health care and education, make it illegal for them to get business permits and tax them for sending money south of the border...
Thomas Freidman's op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times speaks to the same concept on a global basis...
China, in other words, is inevitably going to move back to the center of U.S. politics, because it crystallizes the economic challenges faced by U.S. workers in the 21st century. The big question for me is, how will President Bush and the Democratic Congress use China: as a scapegoat or a sputnik?

Will they use it as an excuse to avoid doing the hard things, because it's all just China's fault, or as an excuse to rally the country — as we did after the Soviets leapt ahead of us in the space race and launched Sputnik — to make the kind of comprehensive changes in health care, portability of pensions, entitlements and lifelong learning to give America's middle class the best tools possible to thrive?

A lot of history is going to turn on that answer, because if people don't feel they have the tools or skills to thrive in a world without walls, the pressure to put up walls, especially against China, will steadily mount.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Purpose of Pain

Shortly after I had my knee surgery this summer, I wrote about how pain serves a valuable purpose. I like what Phil Ware said in this morning's Heartlight while describing watching his son grow up ...

As Zach grew, however, I began to realize that some pain was necessary to help him grow. Some pain motivates us to become dissatisfied with where we are. Other pain is a result of our own mistakes and misjudgments and helps steer us back to the right path. Further pain is there simply because the world is unfair and people sometimes act in hateful and evil ways toward us. This latter hurt drives us to find a lasting and dependable source of comfort.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans and Heroes

In 1954 while inaugurating Veteran's Day as a national holiday, President Eisenhower said: "On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly ... on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain."

Reflecting on the term hero as Veteran's Day comes to a close. One definition is "Ordinary people doing extraordinary things when the situation demands it." I think that's true in many cases, particularly in times of war or crisis - the people to whom the Heroes Garden is dedicated is one example. I also thought about the meaning of a hero and the implications/burden of living with that designation while watching Flags of Our Fathers.

One of the tv shows I have gotten into this fall is NBC's Heroes. This rather unusual show is about several seemingly disconnected people who each discover that they have some type of superpower, and their reactions as they attempt to deal with their newfound discoveries. Here is the reflection of Hiro - the young Japanese character in the series...

The biggest question I have is am I a real hero? I cowardly hid while someone was being killed... I know a do-over is possible, but I also know it's risky to mess with the time-space continuum. What makes a hero? I got these powers for a reason. It's destiny. I question my heroism right now, and I hope I find my answer soon. Off toNew York!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Heroes Garden

When we visited Taylor at Pepperdine, he took us to the Heroes Garden. Located just below the Business School, it is set on a hill overlooking the campus, with the Pacific as a natural background. Dedicated to those who perished on 9/11, and specifically to Pepperdine graduate Tom Burnett, it is a tranquil setting permitting solitude and reflection.

On the path out of the garden, there are 6 stones placed at even intervals. Each stone has a verse from the 23rd Psalm, reminding visitors as they leave, that the Lord indeed is our shepherd.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ted Haggard

I must confess that my thoughts have been neither charitable nor gracious towards the Colorado minister who has been in the headlines the past few days. My initial reaction was that it was poetic justice for the vocal proponent of family values to be outed for homosexual behavior. His credibility was further strained by his responses to the accusations.

Before rushing to judgement it might be wise to consider the secret sins in our own lives. We might also remember the actions of various Biblical characters from Adam to David in trying to hide or cover up sins they committed.

I have no way of verifying the sincerity of the repentant heart that produced the incredible letter that was read to his congregation today. I have to be willing to give the benefit of the doubt if I am to have any expectation of that same grace being extended to me.

November 5, 2006

My Dear New Life Church Family,

I am so sorry. I am sorry for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the hurt. I am sorry for the horrible example I have set for you.

I have an overwhelming, all-consuming sadness in my heart for the pain that you and I and my family have experienced over the past few days. I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment to all of you.

I asked that this note be read to you this morning so I could clarify my heart’s condition to you. The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I’ve said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.

The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church’s overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family.

I created this entire situation. The things that I did opened the door for additional allegations. But I am responsible; I alone need to be disciplined and corrected. An example must be set.

It is important that you know how much I love and appreciate my wife, Gayle. What I did should never reflect in a negative way on her relationship with me. She has been and continues to be incredible. The problem was not with her, my children, or any of you. It was created 100% by me.

I have been permanently removed from the office of Senior Pastor of New Life Church. Until a new senior pastor is chosen, our Associate Senior Pastor, Ross Parsley, will assume all of the responsibilities of the office. On the day he accepted this new role, he and his wife, Aimee, had a new baby boy. A new life in the midst of this circumstance—I consider that confluence of events to be prophetic. Please commit to join with Pastor Ross and the others in church leadership to make their service to you easy and without burden. They are fine leaders. You are blessed.

I appreciate your loving and forgiving nature, and I humbly ask you to do a few things:

1. Please stay faithful to God through service and giving.

2. Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.

3. Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his actions will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didn’t violate you; I did.

4. Please stay faithful to each other. Perform your functions well. Encourage each other and rejoice in God’s faithfulness. Our church body is a beautiful body, and like every family, our strength is tested and proven in the midst of adversity. Because of the negative publicity I’ve created with my foolishness, we can now demonstrate to the world how our sick and wounded can be healed, and how even disappointed and betrayed church bodies can prosper and rejoice.

Gayle and I need to be gone for a while. We will never return to a leadership role at New Life Church. In our hearts, we will always be members of this body. We love you as our family. I know this situation will put you to the test. I’m sorry I’ve created the test, but please rise to this challenge and demonstrate the incredible grace that is available to all of us.

Ted Haggard

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Little Bit of Texas

Here is a picture of Taylor and Royce in their dorm room.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I am of Christ

Mike Cope's post Monday resonated with me. I share it with you...

“I am of Christ.”

That sounds like such a nice descriptor. Others may claim to be of Paul, and others of Apollos (two influential teachers in Corinth) — but I am of Christ.

So why does one have the feeling that Paul didn’t have warm feelings about those who made that claim (1 Cor. 1:12)? Because there were schisms in the church in Corinth: maybe within the house churches, maybe between the house churches, perhaps when they all came together. And behind the schisms, there was a lot of pride at work and a dearth of love.

There were fracture lines appearing, partly because they were attached to their teachers in unhealthy ways (but ways that would have been familiar in Corinth).

But others, dripping in pride and exclusivism, were only “of Christ.”

That resonates with me. Because for part of my life I took pride in not being of Wesley or Calvin, of Luther, and certainly not of the Pope. Just a Christian.

The desire to be “just a Christ-follower” can be very healthy. But it must not become a source of separation from others whom we don’t deem to be just as pure; and it should not ignore the fact that we’ve been influenced by many men and women and of faith. None of us is completely objective. None of us is reading scripture without bias. None of us finds our place in the family of God by being perfect–either in living or in biblical interpretation.

As I lived in those words of Paul last week, it reminded me of how subtle and dangerous spiritual pride is. It is so well disguised, masquerading in costumes of restoration and humility.

Beware anytime there is a church or a group that thinks it has cornered the market on spirituality, interpretation, or missionality. Let us follow the leading of God’s Spirit as he helps us live for the sake of the world; but let us recognize that there are many, many other followers of Jesus who may worship differently, talk differently and think differently.

Defenseless Mountaineers

With 10 minutes left in the game, it looks like WVU may score 40 against Louisville. The bad news is it looks like they are going to give up about 60. It does not look good for the Mountaineers...